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Greenfield, Greendale and Whitnall districts think ahead on how to improve school

They're part of three-district effort that involves heavy collaboration with communities

July 23, 2013

The Greenfield School District, in collaboration with the Greendale and Whitnall school districts, will be working this school year to strengthen its relationship with the surrounding community.

In a presentation to the Greenfield School Board on Monday, Whitnall School Board member LuAnn Bird provided an update on the efforts of Forward Thinking, a group consisting of representatives of the three districts as well as leaders from the city of Greenfield and villages of Greendale and Hales Corners.

Forward Thinking was formed to help engage as many people as possible and create a shared community vision for local schools.

A kick-off for the Forward Thinking initiative is tentatively planned for Aug. 22, Bird said, after which the three districts will begin conducting small-group conversations with various community groups.

Bird said the group is currently preparing for the upcoming kickoff and community conversations, as well as determining fiscal responsibilities and how the districts' education foundations might be involved in those.

Sharing the responsibility

Bird outlined questions that will be asked of the community through the process, including the key question of what needs to happen in the community to help people to get what they want out of the schools.

"That's where we create not just a shared vision, but a shared sense of responsibility," Bird said. "People care about our schools ... so they want to see us get better."

After the input gathered has been analyzed and themes determined, each community will then have the opportunity to create a community agreement with their district. Action teams will be formed to begin implementing priorities identified in those community agreements and, in some cases, integrate with work already being done, Bird said.

The process is ultimately designed to change the culture of how districts work with their communities in a long-term way, Bird said, noting that the intention is to track and evaluate progress on a regular basis, and repeat the process as needed.

"I've seen a lot of this work done in communities with failing school districts," Bird said. "We're not there. We're very good school districts, but we still want more for our kids."

Oshkosh and Milwaukee are among Wisconsin school districts that have successfully developed and implemented community agreements.

Local support

Greenfield School Board members express support for the initiative.

"It's definitely a positive," said School Board member Richard Moze. "I think with less funding, we have to work together to improve education."

Moze noted that he recently spoke with a local machinist union that wants to work with the district on its class offerings, as just one example of how all three districts could offer more programming options through community partnerships.

Although there hasn't been much action yet, Greenfield board member Cathy Walsh said community leaders are already on board and the preparation process is moving quickly.

"There's the idea that we all have these wonderful things to share, and all that will make all of us better than we already are," Walsh said.

Other engaging steps

Beyond its collaborative efforts with Greendale and Whitnall, the Greenfield School District also is placing a stronger emphasis on community relations and public engagement through redesign of its website and development of social media accounts and other media tools to promote the district.

Other efforts targeted for improving community relations and communications include reinstituting a quarterly staff newsletter, holding regular community listening sessions and conducting a comprehensive survey of district stakeholders, and re-evaluating and revamping the district's logo.

For questions or to get more information on "Forward Thinking," send an email to: ftcommunities@gmail.com.

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